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Phys.org internet news portal provides the latest news on science including: Physics, Nanotechnology, Life Sciences, Space Science, Earth Science, Environment, Health and Medicine.

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    The aquatic environment is full of tantalizing chemicals that can guide a fish to mates or meals. Now, scientists in Japan have identified the olfactory receptor and brain circuitry that picks up the scent of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Although mostly known for carrying energy within cells, ATP is also a constituent of fish prey such as brine shrimp and plankton. The newly identified receptor is unique to fish and amphibians and is the gateway to initiating foraging behaviors in the zebrafish.

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    Adult stem cells have the ability to transform into many types of cells, but tracing the path individual stem cells follow as they mature and identifying the molecules that trigger these fateful decisions are difficult in a living animal.

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    Conventional wisdom has it that humans have a poorer sense of smell than most other animals. Sure, we can smell – most of us appreciate the aroma of our morning coffee or a delightful fragrance, and we're able to detect burning toast or a gas leak. But we have nonetheless long been thought to be relative weaklings in the animal kingdom's league of olfactory excellence, which puts dogs and rodents near the top.

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    An authentic French baguette is one of those key staples that foodies hunt for. Now scientists have gained new insight into why a crisp crust is a must for this quintessential bread. They report their findings on how crumb and crust structure affect aroma—and therefore, perceived taste—in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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    Gene transfer is seen as a hopeful therapy for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients. The approach involves using harmless laboratory-produced viruses to introduce important genes into the brain cells. In a study on mice, a team of researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna for the first time investigated how far these viruses spread in the brain and which cells they infect. Some of the artificial viruses travelled from the injection site in the brain as far as the olfactory bulb or the cerebellum and infected not only neurons but also other cells. The results, which were published in the journal Histochemistry and Cell Biology, could help to improve the selection of suitable viral "gene transporters" for custom therapies using gene transfer.

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    Mammals possess several lines of defense against microbes. One of them is activated when receptors called Fprs, which are present on immune cells, bind to specific molecules that are linked to pathogens. Researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, showed in 2009 that these same receptors were also present in the nose of mice, probably to detect contaminated food or to avoid sick conspecifics. The biologists now describe in the journal PNAS how Fprs have acquired this olfactory role during rodent evolution, moving from the immune system to a neuronal system. This innovation results from two genomic 'accidents' that occurred several millions years apart during the evolution of rodents.

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    Queen ants spend most of their time having babies. To reign supreme in a colony, they exude a special scent, or pheromone, on the waxy surface of their body that suppresses ovary development in their sisters, rendering the latter reproductively inactive workers that find food, nurse the young and protect the colony.

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    The human nervous system is like a complex circuit board. When wires cross or circuits malfunction, conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder can arise.

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